Mother Jones and National Review agree that media claims of cuts are false
The internet exploded this week with the “news” that President Trump’s budget proposal included cutting and/or completely eliminating the Meals on Wheels program. The headlines were outrageous clickbait that had little to do with the actual budget proposal.
For example, New York Magazine has an article entitled, “White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is ‘Compassionate’,” Rolling Stone has one entitled “Meals on Wheels Seniors Respond to Trump: Cut Something Else,” the BBC writes that “Meals on Wheels cut back prompts backlash,” and Slate declares that “Trump’s budget director says Meals on Wheels sounds great but doesn’t work.”
The problem with these and the many other such headlines is that Trump is not cutting, and is certainly not eliminating, Meals on Wheels.
Additionally, the bulk of the federal funding that does go to Meals on Wheels comes from HHS and remains unaffected by the proposed cuts to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The media, however, doesn’t let facts get in the way of their faux outrage, fear-mongering, and fake news.
Gobbling up the misrepresentations and lies, even Seth Myers set aside time for a rant during his show.
Via the Daily Beast:
“Meals on Wheels?!” the host asked, incredulously. “How dead inside do you have to be to not want old people to get food? Your heart is so small it makes your tiny hands look like catcher’s mitts.”
“Old people voted for you!” he continued. “Your key demographics were old people and older people. They believed you when you said you cared about them. There’s nothing more low-life than lying to the elderly. You should know that. You’re 70.”
While Meyers did not discuss his own connection to Meals on Wheels during his broadcast, he did reveal on Twitter that his mother is a volunteer for the program, writing, “My mom, who is also my hero, is a Meals on Wheels volunteer so I had some thoughts in tonight’s A CLOSER LOOK.”
For a refreshing change, it’s not only the right who are calling foul on the media’s knee-jerk shrieking about Trump’s diabolical plan to starve America’s elderly population; the left is also pushing back.
On the right, the National Review explains the myriad problems with the misleading and often downright false “reporting” by the national media.
It made for great copy — irresistibly clickable and compulsively shareable. “Trump’s Budget Would Kill a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens,” blared Time’s headline. “Trump Proposed Budget Eliminates Funds for Meals on Wheels,” claimed The Hill, in a piece that got 26,000 shares.
But it was false. And it wouldn’t have taken long for reporters to find and provide some needed context to the relationship between federal block grant programs, specifically Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and the popular Meals on Wheels program.
Instead, as the national site explains, the major source of federal funding for the programs, accounting for 35 percent of overall local budgets, comes through the Sixties-era Older Americans Act. (Local programs also obtain support from state and county governments, private donors, and so on.)
According to the website, cuts have not been announced in Older Americans Act funding, although the group fears that they may lie ahead.
So why all the outrage?
The National Review continues:
So where do the federal block grant programs come in? Well, they give states and localities a lot of discretion on where to allocate the money. One option is to add money to supplement Meals on Wheels funding. Some do use it for that purpose.
But as Scott Shackford makes clear in his new piece for Reason, that isn’t what CDBG is mostly about. CDBG funds regularly go into pork-barrel and business-subsidy schemes with a cronyish flavor. That’s why the program has been a prime target for budget-cutters for decades, in administration after administration.
It’s important to the CDBG program’s political durability that its grantees wind up sprinkling a bit of extra money on popular programs mostly funded by other means. That way, defenders can argue that the block grants “fund programs like Meals on Wheels.”
That’s what happened in the press this week. The New York Times got things rolling by reporting that the new budget proposes “the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper then boiled it down to a tweet: “On chopping block: $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds programs like Meals on Wheels.”
The NYT and Tapper are wrong, something that even a moderately curious person might easily check by simply going to the Meals on Wheels website.
Media defending government corruption and waste https://t.co/rJM9w1AXyE
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) March 18, 2017
Over at Mother Jones, a progressive website, they call the media spin on this portion of the proposed Trump budget “ridiculous” and lay out exactly why it is so.
Here’s what really happened:
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs a program called Community Development Block Grants. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It provides funds to states that they can use for a variety of approved purposes.
- Last year, the Obama administration recommended cutting its budget from $3 billion to $2.8 billion.
- This year, Mulvaney proposed that the program be eliminated entirely. Here’s what the Trump budget has to say about it:
Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.
- Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn’t the right word. Microscopic is the the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren’t targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants.
- Here is Mulvaney’s full quote after getting a question that, for some reason, focused on Meals on Wheels:
Housing and Urban Development, and the Community Development Block Grants, aren’t exclusively about housing. They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels. In Austin Texas today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly, says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals. So what do you say to those American who are ultimately losing out?
As you know, Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. It’s part of the CDBGs, the block grants, that we give to the states. And there have been many states that have made the decision to use that money for Meals on Wheels.
Here’s what I can tell you about CDBGs, because that’s what we fund, is that we’ve spent $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs by the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And great, Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular program.
But to take federal money and give it to the states and say we want to give you money for programs that don’t work, I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt, we’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people. [emphasis not mine]
Mother Jones further notes that the majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels doesn’t even come from HUD in the first place.
I’m no expert on community block grants. I don’t know if they’re a good idea or not. And God knows the Trump “skinny budget” is a disgraceful piece of work for the richest country on the planet. But spinning this as “Mulvaney guts Meals on Wheels” is pretty ridiculous.
The vast majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—which comes via HHS’s Administration on Aging, not HUD’s CDBGs—remains intact. Someone managed to plant this idea with reporters, and more power to them. Good job! But reporters ought to be smart enough not to fall for it.
It’s tempting to file this away as #WhyTrumpWon and as further proof of media bias, but in light of the all-out attacks on the president from a media that sees itself as part of the regressive “resistance,” it might be more complicated than simple Trump Derangement Syndrome. They seem perfectly happy to toss the remaining tattered shreds of their credibility to the winds in pursuit of whipping the public into a frenzy in order to “stop Trump.”
Unfortunately, the fall-out from this willful lack of interest in reporting the truth has the seemingly intended effect, outraging ordinary Americans who take to social media repeating the misleading information they’ve been spoon fed by the media.
Trump cancels Meals on Wheels budget: $3 million a year.
Trump's weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago: $3 million a trip. pic.twitter.com/GRToTRJPzo
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) March 18, 2017
— Christine Beswick (@bychristinebswk) March 18, 2017
Gutting the Meals on Wheels program would devastate millions, including 500,000 vets who rely on it https://t.co/HAy6D9Rvci
— Muckmaker (@RealMuckmaker) March 18, 2017
This evil Trump budget- and it IS evil – is the REPUBLICAN budget. Make the GOP defend cuts to Meals on Wheels, PBS, etc. in 2018. #AMJoy
— Ron Asher (@rmasher2) March 18, 2017
The problem for the dishonest media, however, is that all of this outrage is ultimately impotent because the cause of it simply doesn’t exist.
No one likes being lied to and used as a political tool, so when it finally seeps down to these people that what they believe to be true is not and that Meals on Wheels is not in danger, they’ll not only stop being outraged but will be wary of jumping through these media-constructed hoops in future.